The ‘war chapters’ – not so irrelevant as you might think.
In considering Alma 43-63, I was hit hard with the repeated similarities between the circumstances among the Nephites and those in our societies right now.
There are excellent spiritual-only lessons to learn from these chapters, and we’re pretty well-versed in them, I think. These will always be relevant. I want to talk about the other, very practical, lessons that I believe can be learnt here – and for which I also believe Mormon included them, very deliberately. Or at least, was inspired to, if he wasn’t aware of the reasons. God knew exactly what the problems in our day would be, and what we would need to recognise and combat them.
These chapters delve far more into the details of the times than most other sections of the Book of Mormon – 1st and 2nd Nephi are other examples. Why? Is it only for spiritual counsel? I don’t think so. What we’re given is a very clear picture of the dangers which arose in Nephite society due to dissenters and power-seekers, and how they dealt with them. The great theme that runs through this section is freedom – the dangers to it, the people and causes which tried to overthrow it (over & over), the extreme concern of Nephite leaders regarding those dangers, and the decisive ways in which they dealt with them and defended that freedom. It’s very interesting and directly instructive.
During this time – and in the next generation, covered in Helaman – serious dissenters arose one after the other, gathered people to their cause, and brought down war upon the Nephites. Every instance of battle and destruction, of their enemies gaining ground and taking over more cities, began with a dissenting power-seeker and their followers.
Below, I’ve created a table that shows each of these dissenters/groups, and the similarities between their characters and tactics, and the steps that followed. They follow a remarkably similar pattern. As you look through it, consider the parallels with our time.
Zerahemnah & Zoramites
Amalickiah & supporters
Morianton & inhabitants
|‘Breathed out threatenings against‘ ppl of Ammon for taking in cast-out Zs & refusing to cast them out, too.||Began with dissensions.||Claimed that part of another city’s land belonged to them. Led to contention.
M was “a man of much passion”.
|Refused to fight to defend country b/c so angry w/ rest of Ns, who had voted to uphold liberty.||Continued the evil cause of Amalickiah.|
|Rejected these ppl b/c: (a) poverty & (b) acceptance of true Gospel (which ‘destroyed their craft’)||Thought should be rulers over Ns b/c of ‘noble blood’ (i.e. they ‘deserved it’), or richer, or wanted power (minor judges didn’t have enough)|
|Were ‘stirred up to anger‘ against ppl of Ammon & Nephites||Angry when views opposed & rejected by democratic process – didn’t respect free ideals of their society, so decided didn’t apply to them.
A used ‘cunning device’ & many flattering words to conscript pretensions & enmity of others to his cause.
|When claim (to land belonging to city/ppl of Lehi) not accepted, sought to impose it by force.
Ms were stubborn.
|Angry when Pahoran refused to change law so this could happen. Wanted to overthrow him.||Was angry at Moroni for calling him out. Felt he deserved revenge for the ‘murder’ of his brother (Amalackiah).|
|Used this anger to mix w/ Lamanites & make war against ppl of Ammon & Nephites
(b/c resentful/didn’t feel Ns deserved their freedom or success/wanted to impose their views/power/didn’t like being overruled, disobeyed, or shown up by ppl of Ammon
|Sought to make views law/reality anyway, when rejected by voice of ppl (democratic process)/when didn’t get their way.
Went to Ls & incited them to anger against Ns.
|Took up weapons to fight Lehites – “were determined to slay them” (50:26)||Did this at critical time for Ns – during long war with Ls (started by Z & Zs). Instead of defending themselves against Ls, Moroni & N army had to take care of rebellion created by king-men. Led to loss of many cities & long campaign (years) to regain. Many Ns taken prisoner.
“Were glad in their hearts” when knew Ls on way to battle w/ Ns, although Ns less prepared due to their (king-men’s) dissensions.
|Took brother’s place as king and army commander over Ls.|
|Originally dissenters from N religion & society||When views not accepted democratically, left the Church & the Ns.||Also a dissenter, with his brother. Believed forebear Zoram was forced to join Lehi’s family & come to Americas.|
|Chose Amalekites & Zs – N dissenters – to lead army, b/c were harder, were especially angry against Ns, & had inside knowledge of them.||Dissenters from Ns more dangerous than Ls.
Also appointed Zs as army captains.
|Zerahemnah wanted to subject Lamanites to his own rule – using them for own selfish + evil designs||Amalackiah didn’t care about Ls. Used them for own purposes. “Did not care for the blood of his ppl” (49:10)||Pretended to be fighting for the Ls’ rights – 54: 17 & 55:1 (which were false rights pertaining to power over Ns – 54:17 & 24 – not true rights, which the Ns always accorded to them).|
|Wanted to bring Ns into bondage (& have power over Ls)||Sought to destroy the Church and the foundation of liberty given by God to Ns (reliant on them keeping commandments) – their ‘inalienable rights’.||Promised to ‘wage a war which shall be eternal, either to subjecting the Nephites to our authority or to their eternal extinction‘ (54:20).|
|No trust in God. Denied Ns’ faith & religion & the power of God. Trusted in things of men (believed Ns’ success in battle due to armour only)||Thought that Ns’ success due only to physical & mental matters. So prepared his army w/ similar physical protections.||Denied that God exists and that the Ns’ cause (freedom, religion, and their families’ protection) was just or supported by God.|
|Untrustworthy – didn’t keep covenant to leave Ns alone. Also tried to kill Moroni when weapons were down.||Deceptive; no fellow-feeling (played both sides); used strategies & murder to climb to top among Ls. Twisted facts w/ lies in convincing way.|
|Once king (of Ls), had propaganda against Ns proclaimed among Ls. He ‘inspired their hearts against’ Ns.
He 1. hardened their hearts, 2. blinded them to truth/goodness/reality, & 3. stirred them to anger (47:3)
|Believed? & repeated false historical beliefs about Nephites – that Nephi & descendants had usurped the power that was rightfully Laman’s & his descendants’, and that the Ns had wronged the Ls (in unspecified ways). Both false but convincing when spoken as though he cared & these were just, moral causes.|
|A ‘flattered‘ ppl to become his supporters & incite them to anger.
This worked on their desires & pretensions/pride.
|Morianton-ites flattered by M’s words (likely, that they were in the right & deserved that land).|
Table: Attributes, devices, & similarities between dissenters/would-be usurpers of Nephites during this time (Alma 35, 43-63).
What do you see? Common themes are:
1. Flattery: each of these leaders ‘flattered’ their followers, and this is what decided them to get truly involved in the cause. Flattery seems mainly to have been promising them power once the ‘leader’ was in power themselves (with their help), and probably also included telling them their cause and resentments were just, that they had been cheated of what was rightfully theirs (e.g. the king-men), and that they deserved to have it ‘restored’ to them. Therefore, whatever they had to do to achieve it was just.
2. Anger: it began with anger over the failure of others to act as they thought they should, resentment/anger at their ideas being rejected when put to a democratic vote (as the Nephites had chosen to arrange their society), and anger that they didn’t have what they wanted. Then, they ‘stirred up’ their followers to anger (mixed with the flattery above) – ‘how dare they?!’, etc. Finally, their anger led to further drastic action – going to their own people’s enemies, the Lamanites, and inciting them to anger against the Nephites. If they couldn’t have their way, they’d punish everyone else for it, and force the issue through violence. This is the worst sort of betrayal – seceding from your country, going to its enemies, and convincing them to go to war with your rejected country, so that you can have the power over them that they denied to you. I totally understand the (very different) anger that Moroni felt at these traitors, for the extreme danger and suffering they caused or could cause, and for the betrayal of the principles of freedom upon which their nation was built.
As Yoda said, “… Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering”.
3. They sought to destroy freedom: specifically, the Nephites’ freedom to worship God as they desired, to have a democratic government, to be physically safe, to have families, and to support themselves by their work. The power-seekers always claimed what belonged to either everybody (democracy/the right to choose their own leaders) or another group of people (e.g. the Moriantonites). They wanted what they didn’t have, and were willing to go to arms to enforce it.
What lessons can we learn?
From this portion – the similarities between the people who tried to overthrow Nephite freedom – we learn that the great dangers facing the Nephites were dangers to the freedoms their ancestors had worked so hard to establish. And there were multiple occurrences. Another dissenter always arose – even after this period, when Moroni’s son, Moronihah, was leader of the Nephite armies, dissenters were still arising, leading people away, and going to the Lamanites to stir them up to anger and war against the Nephites. We also have multiple instances of such dangers to the freedoms we have been used to enjoying in our democratic countries.
We learn the specific tools these people used to convince others of the justness of their cause, and incite them to anger and violence against the rest of their society. We learn that anger is very dangerous, and the particular consequences it can lead to, if allowed to grow. It is also a powerful tool in gaining people to a rebellious cause.
I believe we should look carefully within Mormon’s abridgement of Alma’s record here to find exactly what occurred and how, and that doing this will help us to recognise the dangers currently facing us in our free societies, how these might conceivably continue to play out, and what can be done about them. It is also instructive to consider the differences between the power-seekers described here and Moroni, along with the other Nephite leaders of the time (Pahoran, Helaman, Lehi, Teancum…).
Two other aspects of the ’cause of freedom’ are found in these chapters, both as important as this first: (a) the dangers that these dissenters brought to Nephite society (touched upon here, but having more detail to consider), and (b) how Moroni, other Nephite leaders, and the majority of the Nephites together responded to these threats. I’ll share these in another post.